With medical access to pot and all-out legalization gathering steam in the U.S., Rick Steves, travel author and TV personality, gives a glimpse as to what the future possibly holds for pro-pot forces through the lens of Amsterdam.
Steves, who also co-sponsored Washington's I-502 initiative, points to the history of the city, which parallels America's situation. Hard drug use by visiting sailors were rampant in some parts of the city. Though the Dutch are not pro-drug by nature, they approved the opening of coffee shops that allowed the sale of pot. By also legalizing prostitution, the Dutch authorities were able to drive out gangs, dealers and pimps out of the city.
The numbers of coffee shops exploded in the '80s and '90s, reaching a high in the 700s and settling to about 200 today. The shops, which cannot openly advertise their botanical wares, that had complaints about noise or flouted the rules in place were shut down.
"They have a 25-year track record of not arresting pot smokers, and have learned that if you want to control a substance, the worst way to do it is to keep it illegal," he writes for The Huffington Post.
The city quarter that was home to the hard drug use that spurred the opening of coffee shops, or Zeedijk, is now a gentrified part of Amsterdam. The Dutch use half the pot as Americans and have fewer hard drug users than other parts of Europe.
But despite their successes, pressure from the provincial villages and towns may roll back the country's drug policies, at least for tourists. Coffee shops will be prohibited from selling marijuana to tourists, though Amsterdam is fighting the law.
"No one would say smoking pot is healthy," he writes. "It's a drug. It's dangerous, and it can be abused. The Dutch are simply a fascinating example of how a society can allow marijuana's responsible adult use as a civil liberty and treat its abuse as a health-care and education challenge rather than a criminal issue."